Years after scorning the Betamax revolution — Google it, if you’re under 40 — Major League Baseball finally appears ready to embrace its inner digital self.
Baseball’s expanded replay system has been tested on a limited basis during selected Cactus and Grapefruit League games — with mostly favorable reviews.
Even an old-school baseball soul such as Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington has liked what he’s seen so far.
Wash called the Rangers’ three-replay night against the Giants on Thursday “productive.”
“Yeah, I learned a lot,” he said, even though all three video reviews ended up going against the Rangers.
The important thing in spring training, Washington emphasized, is for managers, coaches, players and staff to get accustomed to the new procedures. His first blunder Thursday, he confessed, was being hasty to argue a third-inning out call at first base.
San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford threw out the Rangers’ Elvis Andrus on a close play, and Washington wasted no time in asking umpire David Rackley to check with the TV replay truck.
“I’ve got to remember I’ve got help,” Washington said. “I’m supposed to go out there and kill some time, check with my bench guy and make sure what the situation is. But I overreacted and, thank God, it didn’t hurt me before we got through the sixth inning.”
Managers will be allowed one unfavorable video challenge through the first six innings. Giants manager Bruce Bochy picked what seemed to be a more critical moment earlier Thursday when he challenged an inning-ending out call on a grounder by Juan Perez.
Umpire Rackley called Perez out and the Rangers left the field only to be called back 90 seconds later when the replay umpire — sitting in a TV truck in the parking lot — ruled otherwise. Rangers pitcher Martin Perez had to return to the mound and even took a few warm-up pitches.
“I was under the impression that once the other pitcher walked out of the dugout and crossed the white line, the inning was over,” Washington said.
But the umpires Thursday explained it differently.
“I’ve got 10 seconds to make up my mind whether I want to challenge a play if the inning is over,” Washington said. “They explained it to me as a ‘reasonable time.’ In the bulletin, it says 10 seconds.
“So if I’m going to challenge something, I’m going to yell to my pitcher to give me a break and wait until I’m finished.
“A ‘reasonable time’ is not sitting there waiting till I hear from my video guy to let me know what’s going on and then get up and go challenge it.”
During the regular season, each team will have its own “video guy” — the Rangers will use assistant advance scout Joe Prebynski — to quickly review each play and alert bench coach Tim Bogar in the dugout.
There’s no red challenge flag to throw. (I suggested having the manager toss the water cooler onto the field.) But the timing and the decisions involved are being put to the test this spring.
Washington has already instructed his team not to take a third out for granted if there’s a close play involved. In the bottom of the eighth inning Thursday, the Rangers had base runner Adam Rosales round third and continue to home plate on a disputed ground out at first base. If the out call had been reversed, Rosales’ go-ahead run would have counted.
Similarly, Washington said he has instructed first baseman Prince Fielder, on a close play, not to assume the inning has ended.
“[Rules committee member] Joe Torre said, ‘Don’t take that fourth out for granted,’ ” Washington said. “The first baseman knows that if it’s a close play, we want him to check the guy on second base.”
The video review of Thursday’s eighth-inning play again upheld umpire Rackley’s call.
“After that inning was over, I told that umpire, ‘I’m going to quit challenging your butt,’ ” Washington joked.
The Rangers’ next spring replay game is Monday against the Kansas City Royals.
“It’s going to be a fun little toy,” Bochy said.
For baseball, where changes tend to come at glacial speed, it’s a major, almost staggering innovation.
The few murmurs that the new replay system is prompting this spring are nothing compared to the stir that’s likely once the regular season begins.